Thursday, January 22, 2009

It’s Not Just Luck With Ina

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Pot Luck Dinner
Scott's Short Ribs
Cheddar Dill Cornbread
Stewed Fresh Berries

I’m not entirely sure what is going on. The Food Network was running promos saying this episode of the Barefoot Contessa was the premiere of the new Barefoot Contessa series. I thought that meant they were done with “Back To Basics” and were now just calling it Barefoot Contessa. But, no, the screen says Back to Basics. Whatever! I guess the promos make as much sense as their website. Anyway, I’m just happy to see Ina…I don’t care WHAT they call her show.

Ina tells us that she likes pot luck dinners. All the guests get “their assignments” and they meet at one person’s house. She says the “proof is in the party” and how fun they are.

Today, Ina is bringing the main course of short ribs and cheddar dill cornbread to...Oh Goodie!...TR’s house and he is making dessert. Friend Kirk is bringing the wine. I don’t know who he is, but if the Barefoot Contessa likes him, then so do I.

Ina meets up with the boys for coffee, and TR comes up with the pot luck idea, even though she’s already told us about it. She assigns TR the dessert.

Ina’s three pot luck rules:
Make it ahead.
Make things that travel well.
Make it SO delicious.

Back in the kitchen, Ina takes out 9 gorgeous trimmed short ribs. She sprinkles them with LOTS of salt and roasts them at 400°F. for 15 minutes, which will caramelize the outside. LOTS of pepper goes on. She says doing them on top of the stove is annoying. I know what she means about the greasy clean-up.

TR swaggers into a bakery.
He resists all these beautiful desserts and buys only heavy cream, because he’s making Ina’s Meringues Chantilly himself.

Ina chops up leeks, carrots, onions and sweats them in a large pot with ¼ cup olive oil. She chops up fennel, too, after coring it and adds it. She doesn’t love raw fennel, but adores it cooked with its anise flavor. Because the short ribs are so rich, she likes to add lots of fresh vegetables. (They won't be particularly fresh after cooking for hours, but okay...) She gives it the pot “big stir” and cooks the vegetables for 15 to 20 minutes.

Ina is such a pro. She is 100 percent comfortable in front of the camera. She never performs. She’s just THERE, cooking and showing us as she goes. I imagine that if there were no cameras and we were standing right next to her, her demeanor would be exactly the same. She is pretty much flawless. I just love her!

Ina likes that everyone feels involved in a potluck party. That is so opposite to MY way of entertaining, where if someone brings something, I stash it in the laundry room, and hope no one notices. I don’t want anyone taking the glory away from me! Ina is so generous in her entertaining.

She adds 3 cloves of garlic to the vegetables. She cooks that for a minute and then adds 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and 1 bottle of burgundy. Ina says if you cook with cheap wine, your dinner will taste cheap.

I’ve mentioned this article before about how cooking with cheap wine makes no difference. I still tend to side with Ina, but it is interesting to think that cheaper wines ARE fine for cooking. Normally, I use decent wine in cooking, maybe not the finest, but ones that I can stand to drink, certainly.

Ina cooks the wine and vegetable mixture, uncovered, for 10 minutes to reduce the wine by half. She takes out the short ribs and turns down the oven to 300°F. She seasons the sauce with 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. (Didn't the meat already have an ENORMOUS amount of salt?)

Then Ina makes an herb bouquet with rosemary and fresh thyme by tying them together. That makes it easy to remove. She puts the ribs on top of the sauce. She says TR’s dessert better be good to go with her great ribs. A tablespoon of brown sugar goes in with 6 cups of beef stock (she’s using homemade). The pot gets brought to a simmer and put in the oven, covered, for 2 hours.

TR used to work for the Barefoot Contessa shop, when he was 15 years old, Ina says, and that she taught him a lot. Interesting. She says tonight he’s on his own with dessert. That sounds like a challenge.

TR buys the fruits for the sauce – raspberries and blueberries. He’s going to make dessert all by himself with no help from her and next time, he says, he should make the whole meal by himself.

Ina takes the heavy pot out of the oven. She removes the short ribs and reduces the sauce to intensify the flavor, remarking that the bones have flavored and thickened the sauce.

Perhaps to justify cooking 3 (huge) short ribs per person, she says it’s amazing how they reduce in size. She removes the bundle of herbs, which is nothing but stems. She skims some fat and reduces it for 20 minutes.

She says there’s nothing like a pot luck party for stress-free entertaining, where each person only has to do one thing. I have one better, Ina, GO TO A RESTAURANT! ;-)

She stirs the reduced sauce. She tastes and loves it. She adds back in the short ribs to heat up together.

Back to TR, who is planning to make Ina’s Meringues Chantilly in a beautiful blue KitchenAid. He makes the fruit sauce with blueberries, raspberries, water and sugar and a bit of orange zest.

TR is reading from the recipe and he’s laid the recipe on top of the stove. I'm sure it's about to burst into flames...Be careful! He’s cooked the mixture for 8 minutes. He turns it off and add 2 teaspoons of Framboise liqueuer and stirs in the fresh fruit.

Then he turns his attention to the meringue recipe, where it says to bake them for 2 hours and then to let them sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight. He says WHAT?!! He runs off camera. Meanwhile, we see Ina working on her last recipe.

Why do I think he’ll be revisiting that bakery for a few meringue shells? He broke the first rule of cooking – READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE THROUGH BEFORE YOU START COOKING.

For Ina’s cornbread, she measures 3 cups of flour, which she sort of moves around to lighten before measuring, with 1 cup of cornmeal, ¼ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons baking powder and 2 teaspoons of salt.

She melts 2 sticks of butter and cracks 3 eggs in a bowl. (This is one time she strays from her rule of cracking eggs in a separate bowl before adding them.) She mixes 2 cups of milk into the eggs and whisks in the melted butter. She pours the wet ingredients into the dry ones, telling us not to over mix. She grates 2 cups of extra sharp cheddar by hand and stirs that in.

She runs her knife along the stems of the dill and chops one cup and adds it to the mixture. She lets the batter it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before baking, which allows the cornmeal to absorb the milk and eggs. I don’t do that. Maybe I should, but would that make the finished product less moist?

Ina grates more cheese for the topping. She puts the mixture into a 9 by 13 pan and adds more cheddar on top. She bakes it at 350°F. for 35 minutes. Her part is done.

TR is rushing around. He goes back to the pastry shop and gets the last 3 meringues and runs out the door…without paying the 12 dollars they cost. Wow, that’s pricey! He’s lucky there are only three of them eating tonight.

Ina is packing up the car. TR hopes to get home before Ina arrives. He does. Ina serves dinner. Kirk comes in with one (only?) bottle of wine. They tuck into the short ribs and cornbread. Kirk says it’s unbelievable. TR says Ina never disappoints.

TR brings out dessert and admits he didn’t make the meringues. Gosh, she got that out of him quickly. I guess Ina’s time in the government makes her a super adept interrogator. Ina wants to know how that happened. He says he’s sticking with the Barefoot motto of buying something and making something. Ina says next time HE'S making dinner and SHE’S buying dessert. Oh, and Kirk is definitely bringing the wine.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I thought that the show was still called Barefoot Contessa, but the ongoing theme was back to basics.

I'm curious what's defined as "cheap wine" in terms of what one will cook with. I know if I had a bottle of really expensive wine, I wouldn't be throwing it in the stew pot! Maybe some chefs will throw their cleavers at me, but I've always figured that when you mix the wine in with other flavors, you're not going to taste all of the subtleties of good wine anyway. I've gone into the store looking somewhere on the cheap side because, "I just want something to cook with." It's not as if I buy (heaven forbid) cooking wine.

You're too funny. I feel the same way about people bringing dishes to my dinners. I don't want the attention off of me ever! I am the drama queen cook. Last night I had a dinner guest who is a professional pastry chef and who brought all kinds of stuff from Bouchon Bakery (not where she works). I didn't want to put any of it otu because it was so beautiful and would make my homemade dessert look bad (I put out some of the chocolates and am shamelessly snacking on the cookies and brownies at work!)

Anonymous said...

TR has been on so often lately that my 3 year old sous chef calls him by name! I think they just wanted more camera time for the "loaves and fishes" store...isn't that the name of the place where he went? Also, it showed that even though other people make stuff to bring, she still is "in control". I mean, it was her recipe that he followed, until he bought meringues. But, she has done this herself before.

As for the commercials, I think they were just plugging the fact that they were going to start showing new episodes of Ina. But, don't they know that those of us who adore her would watch whenever she was on? I swear I learn something new, even when it is an episode from 4 years ago.

Thanks for another great review! Now...what did you think of Top Chef!?!

Emily said...

Man, I wish I watched this show more often. I enjoy reading the reviews, certainly. I think Ina's show if my favorite. (Besides URS) ;)

So you said blue KitchenAid? That sounds nice. I'm within hours of selecting mine. I think I should go big or go home.

Tom said...

Hi Sue,

One thing I've noticed about Ina's new recipes this season is that she doesn't get rid of the excess fat from cooking -- both the short ribs here and the chicken bouillabaisse have a lot of fat in them and I think it makes the finished dish suffer a bit.

I've done a lot of experimenting with wine in cooking (especially since I have a wine business) and I mostly agree with the NYT article. A couple of exceptions, though: many cheap red wines are made adding wood chips to the tank to give it the flavor of aging in the barrel. These almost never taste good when you cook them, even if they're passable for drinking. (Most good barrel-aged wine doesn't have this problem). Unfortunately, this isn't on the label so you won't necessarily know. The other is that unless you're cooking the dish for a really long time, some Cabernet Sauvignons and Malbecs don't taste right to me when they're cooked, if they're the high alcohol peppery kind they can often clash with the dish, especially if they're in a quick wine-based sauce.


Lys said...

I just did a short ribs recipe and didn't even THINK of using Ina's *smacks self upside head*

I wondered about that cheap wine comment - now thanks to the comments here, I'll think twice before grabbing the first cab or merlot out of my wine fridge ;)

Sue said...

Hey Rachel,
Well, it turns out you're right about using a cheaper wine to cook with.

I guess we are just two prima donnas. It sounds like you impressed the pastry chef with your delicious dessert and I would absolutely have hijacked those things for later consumption.

Hi Amy,
That is so funny about your son.

The weird thing about the commercial was that I'm pretty sure they said it was a new SERIES, that's why I was so confused. Whatever! You're right that Ina's good the second, third and fourth times around.

Top Chef DOES take me ages to write about. I wish the episodes were a half hour long.

A blue KitchenAid can never be wrong, but I do love my carbon steel colored one.

That's so interesting. How are WE supposed to know that though? It's probably good to have friend in the wine business who we can ask. Right? ;-)

It's hard for short ribs to be bad, so I'm sure yours were great.

Tom's comment was interesting. I almost want to make something with a Merlot, just to see exactly what he's talking about.

Tracy said...

That TR is gorgeous, isn't he? He reminds me of Richard Gere a little. And he has great taste because his KitchenAid is the same color as mine! How about his wood panel station wagon?

Tom said...

Hi Sue,

I always say, it pays to shop at a good wine store, even if it costs more than the grocery store or Costco. Chances are, people who work there will know how the wine is made, and they'll be able to help you.

The thing about cooking with Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec is just that they have a lot of tannins and are pretty spicy; a quick cooking, like a quick pan sauce, might not tame them enough and they can taste bitter. Cream and/or butter can help, because the tannins bind to the proteins in both, and that softens the bitterness. (The NYT article talked about Barolo in risotto, Barolo also has a lot of tannins and the relatively short cooking time for the risotto doesn't completely tame them, although that may be some of the charm of the dish).

Some cooks recommend not using Merlot in cooking because it can be really fruity-tasting, but I haven't found it's a problem.

Anyway, enough of the wine lecture. Just get out there and drink some!